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Structural System

One of eight primary systems in a building

The structural system is similar to the skeleton of the human body. It provides the primary support for the building.



Attributes
The structural system has the following general attributes:
  • The elements of the structural system are part of the base building and typically shared assets between different sections or stakeholders.
  • The assets are highly robust and therefore long-life assets.
  • The structure of the building is often inaccessible or hidden by interior finishes (on the inside) and elements of the building enclosure (on the outside). The fact that this system is difficult to access and supports all other systems in the building means that it should last the life the building with minimal maintenance and renewal activities. A possible exception to this general rule is an underground parking structure where components are more accessible and can therefore be inspected and maintained to some extent.
  • Structural assets typically have a very low maintenance-to-replacement ratio (MRR) since the assets have a long life. 


Asset Inventory
The structural system includes assets such as:
  • Foundations
  • Columns
  • Beams and 
  • Roof diaphragm. 
The photographs to the right show some of the different facets of the structural system.



Physical Analysis
Physical analyses of the systems can be found at:



Risk Management
Risk management is about identifying the undesirable things that could happen to the organization, to the people who live and work in the building(s) and the things that must be done to avoid (or to lessen) the negative impact.

Some of the primary risks (the “consequences”) that are to be avoided or mitigated through management of the structural system are as follows:
  • Potential safety hazards (eg. falling concrete)
  • Compromised structural integrity resulting in restricted access to balconies (and potential building evacuation)
  • Unsightly cracks, spalling and delamination
  • Expensive repairs to structural components
Some of the hazards (the “causes”) that can affect the performance of the structural assets are as follows:
  • Water exposure to structural elements (both wood frame and concrete)
  • De-icing salt exposure to structural elements (concrete)
  • Insect and rodent exposure to structural elements (wood)
  • Changing subgrade conditions
Once the organization fully understands and appreciates the significance of the consequences that may arise from inadequate care of the structural assets, the team can start to make appropriate plans for operations and maintenance so as to mitigate the impact on the organization and its people.



Operations
Operations is about the day-to-day activities in the building that must be coordinated amongst different people with a variety of skills.  Listed below are some of the things that should be considered in estimating the level-of-effort to directly operate (or indirectly care for) the structural assets and the composition of the team that will be required.
  • Durability & Service Life - Structural assets are designed to be highly robust and are therefore considered very long-life assets (50+ years). However, the lifespans of some structural assets can be shortened if they are not protected from water damage. For example, exposure to water can damage a wood frame structure.
  • The Asset Inventory – Since many of the structural assets are hidden from view and will not require maintenance over the life of the building, the structural inventory of assets is the shortest of all systems. Typically, there will be one to three structural assets that will require maintenance.
  • The Team – Given the special nature of the structural system, the organization will not typically have any staff dedicated to structural work. As problems may arise, these are referred to qualified consultants and contractors. Some of the other systems, however, will require the organization to train its staff to operate those assets. 
  • Equipment & Supplies – Under normal operating conditions, there is no need for the organization to keep any equipment and supplies for the structural assets.
  • Documentation & Recordkeeping – The organization should keep its structural drawings in a safe place. No recordkeeping is typically required for any of the structural assets.
While the structural system does not typically require much day-to-day care, it does need to be managed carefully over longer cycles.



Maintenance & Repairs
Maintenance is work done to preserve the structural assets over their useful service lives, without unforeseen repairs or major renewal. Included below is a summary of the things to consider for ongoing maintenance and periodic repairs of the different components of the structural system. 
  • Maintenance - The structure of the building is often inaccessible or hidden by interior finishes (on the inside) and elements of the building enclosure (on the outside). The fact that this system is difficult to access and supports all other systems in the building means that it should last the life the building with minimal maintenance and renewal activities. A possible exception to this general rule is an underground parking structure where components are more accessible and can therefore be inspected and maintained to some extent.
  • Repairs – Signs of potential distress in the structural system are evidenced by cracks, spalling, delamination, deflection, dry rot, etc. People often do not know how to gauge the significance of cracks, which may often be an insignificant sign of movement or indicate a systemic problem. Structural issues should always be referred to a structural engineer. Peeling coatings (such as paint) are not a sign of distress in the structural system but must be attended to as the coatings may be serving a protection function (in addition to any aesthetic function).



Capital Planning
Under normal operating conditions, the structural system should not require any capital planning as most of the components should last the life of the building. However, this is contingent upon proper maintenance being performed in the enclosure system.
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An example of a structural renewal project is crack repairs and restoration of delaminated and spalled concrete in a building parkade.
 

Financial analyses of the systems can be found at:


Energy Management Considerations

The structural system is, generally speaking, a passive system that does not consume energy or waste energy. The one exception, however, is when the structural system also serves as the outside walls of a building and therefore separates the interior conditioned spaces from the exterior environment. Opportunities to optimize the structural system through the implementation of energy efficient measures are therefore included in the discussion of the enclosure system.

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Fig. Concrete columns are an asset within the structural system.


Human physiology as an analogy to illustrate the importance of system interaction and comparing the skeletal system to the structural system.
Fig. Human physiology as an analogy to illustrate the importance of system interaction and comparing the skeletal system to the structural system.


TCO distributed across the different systems of a facilty or across the asset portfolio
Fig.  Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) distributed by system across the asset portfolio.



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Fig. Exterior stairs are part of the structural system.


Conceptual representation of the interconnected systems in buildings
Fig. Conceptual representation of the interconnected systems in buildings.

See also:
See the other systems:



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